For too long, the Yakuza series has been a Japanese mainstay, enjoyed largely through imports and half-hearted English translations, missing the true action-packed flare and Japanese authenticity that make the overseas series so damn appealing. Now, however, Yakuza 4 is getting a no-holds-barred English-language release with only a few minor adjustments from the version that’s been taking names in Japan after previously kicking a lot of gamer ass.
We recently went eyes-on with a demo of the release, checking out the fighting styles of the four playable characters between which players will be switching as the story unfolds. There’s no doubt here that the action is impressive and the animations fluid, supported by some fine – is perhaps flat – visuals that allow the action itself to take center stage.
Certainly, the martial arts styles translate well to the screen as we witness a proficient martial artist; an defensively agile corrupt cop; a brutish escaped convict and the series’ well rounded mainstay protagonist do battle in four distinct arenas. Each character features an individual move-set suited to their particular style, and since the story forces you into their shoes – versus allowing you to select your preference – the game makes an obvious attempt not to let the action fall into sameness. You’ll have to adapt not only to environment, but to the limitations of your character at the time.
Additionally, each fighter boasts a variety of “Heat Actions” – read: finishing moves – that can be executed upon filling up your action gauge by the proficient application of bad-assery. These are a series of brutal takedowns that exist entirely separate from the hundreds of contextual combat maneuvers that are possible within each environment. Close to metal railing? Smash somebody’s head into it. Fighting on rooftop? Throw your enemy over. Battling on a street corner? Toss fools through the windshield of a parked car in a rain of samurai fury. In the short time we saw the title, and in the four or five levels we witnessed, the possibilities for contextual takedowns seemed, almost literally, endless.
And on top of all of this first-rate bloodshed, the game features a variety of weapons – some deadly, some simply comical. Kali sticks, knives, spears and katanas each feature their own attacks and finishers – deadly against any opponent – but players certainly won’t get bored of fighting with traffic cones and whole, frozen fish. Turns out, you actually can slap a ninja silly with icy chunk of salmon.
In addition to the combat, the game features a robust story with a variety of brawler levels, shooting sequences and vehicular chases, as well as dozens of side quests, gambling mini-games and hostess bar features. For those of you unaware, a hostess bar is the Japanese equivalent of a strip club, except without all the stripping, and where the lovely ladies prove to be captivating conversationalists. Here you’ll find sub-missions and even engage in relationships if you choose. And to get a sense of how robust these features are within the gameplay, the developers estimate that you could easily add on an additional 100 hours to the story’s 20-hour campaign.
Yakuza 4 is ostensibly meant to be “Tokyo in a box,” providing fans of Japanese flavor the ultimate taste of the town’s criminal underbelly. In our short time with the game, what we saw was less visually impressive and more conceptually awesome. Enemies waited far too patiently for you finish off their friends; and the environments didn’t exactly shine with next-gen, high-def polish. But the action was fast and hard-hitting, the moves gloriously over-the-top. Add to that the more RPG-focused elements and we’re betting that Yakuza is about to gain some mainstream American fans.
Check back with us for more as the release approaches.